Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), a one-time staunch defender of the CIA, NSA and its electronic spying apparatus, is now publicly accusing the CIA of spying on the US Senate.

Dianne Feinstein

The turnaround comes as Dianne Feinstein, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair, is investigating the CIA for torture of terror suspects that took place during the Bush administration.

Dianne Feinstein says CIA told her spying done at request of Obama administration, who denies charge

Dianne Feinstein claims the CIA arbitrarily searched and then removed documents related to an investigation of the CIA off the Senate’s computer network.  “The CIA just went and searched the committee’s computers,” Feinstein said, speaking on the Senate floor. When the documents were discovered to have been removed, Feinstein says the CIA initially blamed its IT staff, but then changed their story, saying the documents were removed at the request of the White House.  Feinstein said the White House denied requesting the documents’ removal.

“What… me spy on US citizens? Never…”

CIA Director John Brennan, who was a senior CIA official during the Bush administration, quickly shot back, saying that the CIA “wouldn’t do that,” and that spying charges on the US Senate was “beyond the scope of reason.”

Some CIA officers could face criminal prosecution as a result of a Justice Department investigation into the spying on the Senate, according to a report.

Last week Brennan had sharper words for members of the Senate Intelligence Committee.  “I would encourage others to refrain from outbursts that do a disservice to the important relationship that needs to be maintained between intelligence officials and Congressional overseers.”  When asked by NBC’s Andrea Mitchell if he would resign if Feinstein’s accusations turned out to be true, Brennan avoided the question, chuckled then later said it would be President Obama who would be “the one who can ask me to stay or to go.”

Is this a tipping point in domestic spying operations?

Criticism of CIA domestic spying has been growing, but the charge that the CIA is spying on the US Senate may have pushed the issue to a tipping point.  “This a fundamental breach of the oversight relationship between Congress and the intelligence community,” Mieke Eoyang, a former Senate Intelligence Committee staffer and current national security analyst at Third Way, was quoted as saying. “It’s a violation of the CIA’s restriction from operating against American citizens; it’s a violation of separation of powers; it’s a violation of the legislative branch privilege.”

“The possibility of CIA interference in congressional deliberations is shocking, and it may represent a historical crisis in intelligence oversight,” Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy, was quoted as saying. “What is striking is not only the allegations themselves, but the fact that they are coming from Sen. Feinstein, who in other contexts has been such an outspoken champion of the intelligence community.”

Snowden calls Dianne Feinstein a hypocrite

Sen. Dianne Feinstein turnaround is particularly noteworthy, as she had at first staunchly denied the CIA and NSA engaged in domestic spying and has been a harsh critic of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. “We’re seeing another ‘Merkel Effect,’ where an elected official does not care at all that the rights of millions of ordinary citizens are violated by our spies, but suddenly it’s a scandal when a politician finds out the same thing happens to them,” Snowden said in a statement to NBC News, apparently referencing German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s issues with reports the U.S. listened in on her personal conversations, but her failure to condemn the NSA for mass surveillance of communications of German citizens.